SPOILER ALERT: If you are unfamiliar with the book or have only seen the recently released film with no idea what is going to happen in Chapter 2, I suggest you look away now if you don’t want it spoilt.
The latest film version released globally this weekend. I saw it on Friday afternoon. Largely, I thought it was a superb adaptation. It had some niggles – for me, mostly the overuse of the creature reduced its effectiveness. Almost everything else hit the mark, including and especially the child actors.
Anyone unfamiliar with the story might be forgiven for thinking that it’s just another horror story where a creature chases and kills children, but you’d be wrong.
The fact is, IT isn’t really about, um, the creature known as IT. To reduce it to little more than a horrifying monster that kills children is not doing Stephen King’s source material justice. No, IT has much more subtext than that and it plays on many of the things most of us experienced or felt during that transitional phase into and through puberty.
Feeling Like a Misfit
The first and most important aspect is feeling that we are somehow different from everybody else. Each of the children has something that sets them apart – the fat kid, the town’s only black kid, the Jew, the stutterer, the nerdy kid with glasses, the girl who the school decides is a slut for no particular reason other than that somebody started a rumour that she has sex with every boy who looks at her. Into this mix is thrown the school bully who torments them and gives them the label The Loser’s Club. By the end, this is a label they relish. They are united by their differences from everyone else and in that they find a common bond.
There is no doubt that when we move from childhood to adulthood, the nature of our friendships changes. In childhood, it’s about sharing, forming groups and doing stuff together, feeling wanted and liked, feeling like you have a bond of things in common. This is all fairly innocent stuff. But adult friendships are about trust, reliance and being willing to support one another and fight for one another. In childhood, friends drift apart. In adulthood, friends fall out. We see this transition in the story as they come together for no particular reason but are soon united by the special bond they have – forced together by bullying.
Loss of Childhood Innocence
We never get an explanation for what the creature known as IT is, where it came from or why it sleeps for 26 years before awakening again on the 27th to spend a year killing children. But does it really matter? I would argue not because the creature represents the loss of childhood innocence in realising that the world is a scary place. IT mostly takes the form of a clown. Some people are scared by clowns but most are not. The reason that IT comes in the form of a clown is that they are not supposed to be scary. IT is a metaphor for the seemingly harmless things that can and will hurt you.
Loss of Sexual Innocence
Many books have dabbled with loss of sexual innocence but none quite so overt as IT. Beverley is the only girl in the group – and the significance of that is emphasised through how all of the boys clearly fancy her (perhaps for simply being the only girl to ever show them kindness and respect), while for two of the boys those growing feelings of puberty-driven lust are more than that. Two of them are clearly in love with her and both carry a torch for her into adulthood. In an amusing scene from the most recent film, all the boys are watching her prone body as she sunbathes in only her underwear. When she opens her eyes to look at them, they all pretend to be watching something else. But the loss of sexual innocence is not always as light-hearted in IT. Beverley is shamed as the school slut even though she has never had sex. She is also being sexually abused by her father. In the book’s most controversial scene, she has sex with all the boys in the sewers to build trust and cement their bond before facing IT.
Childhood Trauma Stays with Us
The Loser’s Club know that the events of their childhood are not over – they have to return to Derry some day and face IT again. Even when they make their blood promise, they are not prepared for how much of the trauma they faced would haunt them as they grew up. The slut-shaming of Beverly and the sexual abuse carries on into her marriage. Each of the boys always feels out of place for their differences – at least one of them turns to substance abuse to cope with the trauma. They never get over the loss of family and friends. As adults, we can usually weather the difficult storms that life throws at us. The same trauma in childhood tends to stay with us.
IT is More Than Just a Horror Story
No, IT – the creature and the story – are timeless, examining the effects and events of childhood carried through into adulthood. This is a story of growing up – of feeling different, finding a kinship with others, of finding lifelong friendships and being bound by the events of a single summer. IT is a superb story of the journey from childhood, through puberty and into adulthood.